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Flood-Prone Residents Will Need to Elevate, Official Says
Oct 09, 2013

Flooding in Fair Lawn. File photo.
A change in focus at FEMA means flood-prone residents of Fair Lawn and other communities will likely need to elevate their homes, borough Flood Plain Manager Richard Bolan said last week.

The federal government is phasing out its flood insurance subsidies, meaning residents with those policies could see their rates increase by three or six times over the next few years, according to Bolan.

"FEMA is going to make everyone who is in a flood zone elevate, or they're going to make it so expensive that you can't afford to live there," he said.

That means local officials may need to change their focus from buyouts because the money that could go to one buyout could go toward several elevations, Bolan said. The Fair Lawn Council voted this summer to purchase the flood-prone Dube family property on Second Street using open space funds. With the new focus, it will likely be the owners, not the town, responsible for elevations, he said.

More than 400 Fair Lawn property owners hold flood insurance policies, including 26 who have claimed repetitive loss, according to FEMA data.

While the feds are phasing out their insurance subsidies, they are also making it easier for more of those who experience flood damage to apply for mitigation funding.

"Mitigation is not really a technical issue, because we understand the mechanics of how to prevent flood problems," Bolan said. "It's really a matter of funding."

Local officials can also help lessen the increases to residents' flood insurance rates through the National Flood Insurance Program's Community Rating System, which reduces rates for the owners of properties in flood plains based on the amount of action a town takes to prepare for floods.

Fair Lawn could get enough to result in a 10 percent reduction in rates for residents just by documenting what they already do for floods, including warning the public in advance of storms, keeping a map of flood progression and operating an Office of Emergency Management, Bolan said. It may be possible for the town to reach discounts of 15 or 20 percent, he said.

For now, residents looking to get out of flood-prone properties may still have a hard time selling their homes. Second Street resident Richard Saffer estimated the value of his house had dropped by $200,000 or $300,000 and said that his neighbor had abandoned their home.

"If you come to buy my house and you're out in the backyard, you're going to look at the slum shack behind me that's falling apart," Saffer said. "You're not going to want to live there."